• September 15, 2016

    Cleveland, OH – Restoration begins at Cleveland’s historic Variety Theatre: Look inside


    From The historic Variety Theatre is about to light up.

    On Saturday, Sept. 24, the new marquee on the 1927-built theater at Lorain Ave. and West 118th will be turned on at a street party in front of the beloved theater, closed since the 1980s.

    The marquee is the first step in a planned $15 million restoration of the Variety, which featured everything from vaudeville to classic movies to punk and metal bands over the years. It was metal legends Motorhead, in fact, who got the venue shut down with a court order in 1984 after a plaster- and neighbor-rattling show.

    The 28-foot, 2,280-LED-bulb marquee is far more than just a bunch of lights, though. It’s a literal sign to the world that the Variety’s restoration process has begun.

    “People are so excited when they see the marquee is ready,” says Ward 11 City Councilwoman Dona Brady, who has made restoring the Variety a goal since 2006.

    “I’m just ecstatic about this, it’s been a long process,” says Brady, who grew up in the area attending Sunday afternoon children’s matinees in the 1,900-seat theater.

    “Residents see it as a sign that the Variety is coming back. That’s why I wanted to start the restoration with the marquee. It’s a visible sign to everyone that we are making progress, that the rebirth of the Variety has begun.”

    Just this week, in recognition of that rebirth, the Variety was the winner of the This Place Matters awareness campaign sponsored by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Officials hope the award will raise the national profile of this Cleveland gem.

    The new marquee is a replica of the original 1927 vertical blade-style marquee, damaged by a tornado in 1953, not the later horizontal marquee Clevelanders who saw movies at the venue in the 1970s or rock shows in the 1980s might remember.

    The Variety Theatre opened on Nov. 24, 1927, with a screening of Clara Bow’s “Hula.” The Spanish Gothic theater was designed by Cleveland architect Nicola Petti, who also designed the Cedar Lee Theatre in Cleveland Heights.

    Warner Bros. purchased it in 1929 and kept it until 1954, as one of the busiest movie theaters on the West Side. The 1970s and ‘80s were less glamorous for the venue, but no less busy, as it became a second-run theater and finally a concert club. It has sat largely empty for the last 30 years.

    The marquee was paid for by $110,000 in neighborhood-development funding. A $100,000 grant from FirstEnergy Corp. was used to bring electricity to the building.

    The next step in the building’s restoration is emergency repairs to stabilize the roof and prevent further water damage. Brady says the funding is already in place for this, from casino tax money made available to City Council members.

    The councilwoman estimates it will take about $15 million to restore the Variety. That includes the 20,900-square-foot theater area, and everything else in the block-long building at Lorain Avenue and West 118th Street.

    The campaign for the Variety got a big boost last December, when the Ohio Development Services Agency announced it was one of seven applicants in Northeast Ohio to receive an award of Ohio Historic Tax Credits. It received a commitment of $1.4 million in tax credits, “a pivotal piece of financing to move the renovation of the closed Variety Theatre closer to reality,” says Brady.

    They’re currently waiting on the announcement of allocatees for the Federal New Market Tax Credits in November. If all goes well with these, the Variety will have amassed approximately $7.5 million through Ohio Historic Tax Credits and Federal New Market Tax Credits, says Rose Zitiello, executive director of the Westown Community Development Corp.

    When that funding is in place, a new LLC will be created and Westown and the Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization will take over ownership of the building from the Friends of the Historic Variety Theatre.

    Designs call for the first-floor theater area to be sectioned off into a restaurant and entertainment venue. Cleveland restaurateur Tony George, founder of the Harry Buffalo chain and Barley House, has signed on to build and manage the restaurant.

    “We’re just in the design stage and not sure what kind of restaurant it is going to be yet. They gave me the basic white box, and I am working with it,” says George. “I think the restoration of the Variety is a great thing. I was born and raised on the West Side and went there as a kid. The Variety was a great place.”

    The street level will also feature 10 retails spaces, including the offices of Westown Community Development Corp.

    Upstairs, Westown will oversee a movie theater that will screen classics, children’s films and other repertory cinema. Brady says they are not sure of the capacity of this yet, but there are 350 seats in this balcony area now.

    Zitiello says they expect to break ground on the restoration in the second half of 2017. She expects the project will take at least two years to complete.

    That’s nothing, says Brady.

    “People think that the Capitol Theatre and Gordon Square happened overnight, but that took 30 years. … This is going to be a catalyst for the entire neighborhood.”

    The marquee at the historic Variety Theatre will be lit at a street party from 4 to 8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 24, in front of the theater. There will be family activities and entertainment including Y Music children’s choir from 4 to 6 p.m. and Frank & Dean from 6 to 8 p.m. The marquee will be turned on at 8 p.m. Mayor Frank Jackson and Councilwoman Dona Brady will be in attendance.

  • September 12, 2016

    Northampton, MA – An unexpected find: Academy of Music restores historic scenic curtain


    From the Daily Hampshire Gazette: Time was when all kinds of places had them: theaters, town halls, grange halls, opera houses, or any place else you might stage some kind of artistic performance.

    Scenic backdrop curtains.

    It turns out Northampton’s Academy of Music had one, too, but it had pretty much vanished from view years ago until Academy staff members discovered it two years ago when the building was being restored.

    Now that 103-year-old curtain — evidently the largest known to exist on the East Coast — has been given a makeover by a Vermont conservation group that specializes in refurbishing these historic backdrops. On Tuesday, the Academy will unveil the curtain to the public during an open house from 5:45 to 6:30 p.m.

    “It’s the largest [scenic curtain] we’ve ever worked with,” said Christine Hadsel, director of Curtains Without Borders, a conservation group from Burlington, Vermont. “It’s an impressive work.”

    Hadsel, who with members of her team spent several days in August working on the curtain, said the Northampton backdrop measures 42 by 28 feet. Most of the curtains the group conserves are in the range of 18 by 10 feet, she noted.

    Debra J’Anthony, director of the Academy of Music, said the curtain was designed in 1913 by Maurice Tuttle, a New York painter who created scenic backdrops throughout the United States and Canada. It was first displayed for the public in October 1913 as the main drop curtain for a performance by a theatrical group, the Northampton Players.

    J’Anthony says she believes the painted scene was inspired by Paradise Pond on the Smith College campus in Northampton and by a tower that was part of a local factory and business, Maynard’s Hoe Shop, which was destroyed by fire a few years later. On the curtain, the tower stands alone and is surrounded by trees and framed against a blue sky. The lush scene could pass for a painting from the Romantic Era, with the tower representing an old medieval or Roman ruin.

    A stylized graphic, with abstract motifs that may have been painted on with stencils, lines the painting on three sides.

    Tuttle’s design, Academy staff say, was painted over one side of what had been the theater’s original main proscenium curtain, a blue-and-white striped canvas decorated in floral stencils and hand-painted pinstripes. That curtain dated from the building’s opening in 1891.

    At some point — it’s not clear exactly when — the curtain was taken out of use and stapled to the back of the Academy’s cut-velvet main drape curtain, which dates from 1917, J’Anthony said.

    After Tuttle’s work was discovered, J’Anthony got in touch with Curtains Without Borders; staff from the group made three visits to the Academy to assess its condition and develop a plan to conserve it. A deep clean In mid-August, several members from the group returned to the Academy to start that effort. First job: scrub a century’s worth of dirt and stains from the huge curtain.

    To do that, it was removed from its risers and laid out flat on dozens of rented tables mounted on the Academy’s stage. Staff from Curtains Without Borders, on their hands and knees, rubbed the curtain — made from a cotton muslin, Hadsel said— with specialized dry sponges.

    Curtains from those days, she added, “would absorb a lot of dirt. People used to smoke in theaters, dirt would fall from the ceiling, and it would accumulate.”

    The conservators also planned to clean the backside of the curtain. Additional conservation work included vacuuming, repainting faded sections of the curtain, repairing tears and holes, and trimming ragged edges with iron-on patches.

    “It’s the biggest curtain we’ve ever worked on,” Hadsel said. “It’s quite a job.”

    Her group, started in 1996 as a project of the Vermont Museum & Gallery Alliance, has since surveyed and worked on hundreds of old painted curtains and backdrops in New England and in other parts of the United States. They’ve conserved one at the Majestic Theatre in West Springfield and are scheduled to work on one in Orange.

    “These kinds of backdrops were very popular in the late 1800s and early 1900s, especially in New England,” Hadsel said. “Just about any place that could host a performance had one. Sometimes they’d have a whole set of them.”

    While many of these backdrops featured pastoral scenes, some offered street scenes or interior views of houses; others would contain advertisements, usually for local businesses that supported that arts. Many of these “advertising” curtains are in grange halls, Hadsel notes, as granges used the revenue to pay for the artistic work and upkeep, while town hall curtains were paid for by donations or public money.

    “They’re really great examples of American folk art,” she said.

    She’s cataloged many of the curtains her team has worked on in a new book, “Suspended Worlds: Historic Theater Scenery in Northern New England.” The colorful backdrops detailed in the book recall the era before TV, radio and the internet, when live theater was the main form of community entertainment.

    J’Anthony says the Academy is thrilled to have its painted curtain — a missing piece of the city’s history — back in place. In addition to Tuesday’s free unveiling, it will be available for viewing during future history tours, special events and selected performances at the theater, she said.

  • August 18, 2016

    Cleveland, OH – Ohio Theatre Lobby gets restored to 1920s glory


    From From the world’s largest outdoor chandelier to the marquees and arches welcoming patrons of the arts downtown, the revitalization of Cleveland’s theatre district has been a long time in the making.

    But there was one final piece needed to complete the puzzle, and that piece was the lobby of the Ohio Theatre.

    The last of the five historic Playhouse Square theatres to be restored, the Ohio Theatre was ravaged by a fire initiated by a malfunctioning concession stand machine in 1964. Lost in the fire were the murals, ornamental plaster ceiling, wooden columns and fireplaces, and there were enough resources to undertake the full restoration project.

    “Starting last summer, we took out everything that we had put in,” said Tom Einhouse, Vice President of Facilities and Capital for Playhouse Square.

    “We took out bathrooms and the little foyer lobby and everything else and gutted it back to the walls, back to the brick, back to the underside of the roof, and literally, recreated everything.”

    When the Ohio Theatre reopened on July 8, 1982, it had a modernized look. However, through a generous gift from the Gordon Gund Foundation, and countless hours of research of original renderings, work began on the full renovation in July of 2015.

    The sculpting of plaster for the ceiling took more than 8,500 hours and the murals, which span 30 feet long and 10 feet high, were created by six artists at Evergreene Architectural Arts in New York City. Also, the chandeliers were restored, cleaned and rewired by Bruening Glass Works in Rocky River, and carpets were replicated from original drawings by Brinton’s in England.

    Complete with hand-picked marble from the Vermont and mahogany columns, the new-look lobby took 11 months to fully restore, and now, with the final piece in place, Playhouse Square’s puzzle is complete.

    …And what a picture it has revealed.

  • August 15, 2016

    Edinburgh, TX – Attorney Working to Restore Edinburg Theater


    From An Edinburg attorney is working to restore a movie theater built in 1941. Felipe Garcia said the Citrus Theater has historical significance and brings back memories for him and lots of people in the city.

    “It was pretty much the only building of its type in the city of Edinburg that was air-conditioned besides the courthouse and things like that,” he added.

    The theater, which showed all first-run movies, is across the parking lot from the Hidalgo County Courthouse. Garcia bought it 20 years ago.

    “I’ve tried to maintain it from the standpoint of keeping everything intact that was in there. The chairs, the old projectors are still there,” he said.

    The Citrus Theater was the dream of an Edinburg doctor and his wife. In 1939, in an alleged jealous rage, the doctor shot and killed his wife. He then used the insurance money to build the theater.

    The theater has two balconies and a total of 800 seats. Movie patrons left their marks. There are scuff marks where people put up their feet against the wall near the front row. Garcia pointed out a spot with “circular grease stains, where guys that were there with their dates would rest their heads back there.”

    Citrus murals decorate the theater’s entrance. “During one of the renovation projects, they painted it over, but we managed to restore it,” Garcia explained.

    As for the doctor who built the theater, he included his office inside of it. His exam rooms are still there, and he built a side entrance for himself and his patients.

    Garcia invites anyone interested in learning more to visit the Citrus Theater Edinburg TX group on Facebook. That’s where he shares photos about the theater and its history.

  • August 8, 2016

    Asbury Park, NJ – Lost theaters of Asbury Park: The return of the Savoy


    From the Asbury Park Press: An Asbury Park treasure is coming back.

    The Savoy Theatre on Mattison Avenue is in the process of being renovated by its owner, Sackman Enterprises. The Savoy, purchased by Sackman in 2014 for $2.47 million, was built in 1911 as a stage for live entertainment. When it reopens for business, it will be the oldest operating theater in New Jersey.

    “It was built before there was any sound and lighting systems, so the acoustics are made for not having a sound system,” said Morgan Sackman. “It has a well-built balcony, and it’s a place where there’s not a bad seat in the house.”

  • Stoughton, MA –


    From the Stoughton Patch: After a veto from Gov. Charlie Baker, funds for the State Theater have been restored.

    State Senator Bryan Joyce recently announced that the state legislature has overridden the governor’s veto, restoring $50,000 in restoration funds for the State Theater. The building has stood in Stoughton Center for 86 years and opened in 1927 as a venue for movies and travelling vaudeville-style performers.

    The funds will go to updates and repairs needed to restore the building.

  • Medford, OR – Historic Holly Theatre on track to begin construction in 2017


    From the Mail Tribune: Although the Holly Theatre will spend its 86th birthday with floors uncarpeted and air unconditioned, organizers have high hopes for the historic building in the year ahead.

    Randy McKay, executive director for Jefferson Live!, which manages the building, said the planning stages are nearly complete for the theater’s restoration project to get underway in earnest. After months of effort and recent meetings with sound, lighting and theatrical rigging companies, McKay spent last week finalizing various design plans for the building on Sixth Street in downtown Medford, with the intention of turning estimated costs into actual ones. Preliminary fundraising figures, which McKay said will be updated Monday, show a total of $2,963,750 raised from approximately 1,700 donors, achieving more than two-thirds of a $4.3 million goal.

    When construction begins, monthly tours of the historic theater’s four floors — peppered with drawings, historic photographs and renderings — will come to an end.

    “If anybody wants an opportunity to take a tour, they’d better hurry,” McKay said.

    McKay plans to announce 2017 construction dates for the interior of the theater, pending continued fundraising success. The construction efforts would begin in the fall, however, with formal requests to bid on the various pieces of the project.

    “I am pretty certain we’ll announcing something in the fall,” McKay said.

    McKay, who has been involved with two California theater restorations prior to the Holly, says the momentum built from volunteers and the community will carry the theater to its completion.

    “Once a project is this far along, it’s a foregone conclusion,” McKay said.

  • July 25, 2016

    New York, NY – Sneak Peek of Hudson Theatre Restoration



    Situated just off Times Square in New York on 44th Street, between Millennium Broadway Hotel and The Premier Hotel,The Hudson Theatre opened on October 19, 1903 with a production of Cousin Kate starring Ethel Barrymore. Built by Henry B. Harris, a famous Broadway producer of that period, The Hudson Theatre is one of New York City’s oldest Broadway showplaces. The 100-foot long lobby was the largest ever seen on Broadway at that time. Among the stars that have graced the Hudson’s stage are Douglas Fairbanks, William Holden, Helen Hayes, Edward G. Robinson and Dorothy Gish. Barbara Stanwyck and Judith Anderson both made their debuts on its stage. On September 27, 1956 the first nationwide broadcast of “The Tonight Show” starring Steve Allen originated from The Hudson Theatre. It was granted landmark status for both its internal and external features in 1987.

    The venue will receive significant front-of-house improvements to better serve its patrons including all new state-of-the-art seating, Ambassador Lounge premium lounge service, and increased and improved ladies' washrooms. In addition, significant backstage and technical upgrades, including new and expanded dressing rooms and new fly systems will transform The Hudson into a leading legitimate Broadway theater and destination for producers, directors, actors and creative teams. The anticipated re-launch of the theater is slated for the 2016/2017 Broadway Season.

    Ambassador Theatre Group, through its subsidiary, Hudson Theatre LLC, has entered a long-term lease for The Hudson Theatre, its second theater on Broadway, from a subsidiary of Millennium & Copthorne Hotels plc (M&C). M&C and ATG will be, in a multi-million dollar project, restoring the landmark venue to its former glory as a Broadway playhouse.

    M&C’s Chairman Kwek Leng Beng, said,

    “The Hudson Theatre is one of the great historic landmarks in New York City and we have always been proud to have it in the Millennium & Copthorne family. We have proudly owned and maintained the theater as a cherished conference venue within our New York hotel estate since we acquired the Millennium Broadway Hotel New York in 1994. It was time for The Hudson to again become a destination where New Yorkers and visitors from around the world will experience great theater and entertainment. We are so pleased to have Ambassador Theatre Group partner with us on this new journey for The Hudson Theatre.”

  • July 18, 2016

    Austin, MN – Going back in time; New mural pays tribute to the theater’s history


    From the Austin Daily Herald: After years of mere thoughts, ideas and a failed attempt, volunteer Jim Burroughs is happy to say a project to restore a mural on the side of Paramount Theatre is complete.

    “It just stayed as a to-do project for many years,” Burroughs said.

    Greg Wimmer, an artist based out of Rochester, completed work on the project two weeks ago.

    He spent three days painting a revised version of the original mural, which appeared on the building when it first opened in September of 1929.

    “It looks great,” Burroughs said. “Greg Wimmer does exquisite work.”

    The mural is also a tribute to the history of the theater. The mural features two stars which say “Publix” inside of them. Publix was the company that originally owned Paramount Pictures and thereby Paramount Theater.

    “[We added] it for historical purpose,” Burroughs said.

    A mural grant, which matched donations received by the Paramount, helped make the restoration possible.

    Story link and additional photo at:

  • July 14, 2016

    Inman, SC – Couple restores old Inman Theatre


    In its heyday, Elvis came to Inman. So did Godzilla.

    That was over a half-century ago, when the old Inman Theatre was alive and buzzing weeknights and Saturday afternoons, showing second-run films such as “Jailhouse Rock,” westerns and monster flicks like “Godzilla.” Tickets cost a quarter, popcorn and Coke were 10 cents each, and candy bars were a nickel.

    Those days are gone, but the theater isn’t.

    Today, the 275-seat Inman Theatre is alive and well again, thanks to a three-year restoration effort by its owners, Inman native Buren Martin and his wife Dorothy.

    The Martins operate a theatrical troupe called Baillie Players, and are hosing summer drama camps for elementary-age students capped with performances on Friday nights.

    “Alice and Wonderland” was the first production, and “Beauty and the Beast” is next.

    “This is an amazing opportunity that has been waiting and coming together for a long time,” said Inman Mayor Cornelius Huff. “We are just excited to be a part of this new venture, to be able to assist this. It has exceeded my expectations.”

    Huff is also excited that the Martins have opened the roomy theater’s doors at 41 Mill St. to City Council, which plans to hold monthly meetings there instead of at its cramped City Hall on Main Street.

    “It’s going to open the door for a whole lot of things,” Huff said of future community events.